In the late 1980s, rock and roll was on the brink of a major shift in aesthetic that was going to put a quick and abrupt end to the hype of the “hair metal” subgenre. As the 90s arrived, it was no longer about the stadium sound that bands like Poison, Motley Crue, and Def Leppard had perfected. Rock music became muddier and more complex. The need for fast paced, commanding songs that were made for head banging subsided, and the desire for creating material that showcased deeper tones and lyrical vulnerability arose. Not a lot of the groups that were making such a splash in the later 80s successfully transitioned into the new decade because of this. A handful of bands, however, embraced the change and worked hard to create content that reflected the movement of the genre. For the band Guardian, this was the case, and their album Buzz is excellent evidence of their ability to adapt to the musical transitions that were happening around them.
Buzz was the result of a collaboration between Guardian and legendary faith-based producer Steve Taylor. The band’s previous album Sing, Sang, Swung—released in 1994—left them wedged in an odd spot. They weren’t performing in the hair metal style anymore, but they also weren’t a grunge or alternative band. Collaborating with Taylor made all the difference though, and in October of 1995, they released Buzz, and solidified a place in alternative music. The physical album itself was particularly special at its release because there were four variants of the cover available: a photo of astronaut Buzz Aldrin, bees at a beehive, two girls whispering to each other, and a woman giving a young boy a buzzed haircut.
Buzz hits the ground running with the opening track “This Old Man.” Unlike other grunge bands popping up around them at the time, Guardian infused their alternative sound with their metal background, giving off an Alice in Chains’ Dirt vibe through the heavy guitar distortion and monotone, gravelly vocals provided by singer Jamie Rowe. This tune set the tone for where the band was headed sonically, and proved their capability to be an alternative rock band. The headlining guitar solo found in “Lead the Way” feels more punk influenced, stretching the group even further into different facets of the subgenre. Next is the cool down track “State of Mind,” and afterward, the melodic “The Lion’s Den” that could almost be a precursor to alternative heavyweight Pearl Jam’s 1998 album Yield.
“Are You Gonna Keep Your Word?” is the fifth song on the track list, and blends several spoken word moments into the lyrical delivery with a distorted guitar that sounds like something inspired by Alice in Chains’ “No Excuses.” “One Thing Left to Do” and “Hand of the Father,” while a bit forgettable, still provides a solid, muddy atmosphere. The album peaks with bright and upbeat “Psychedelic Runaway” before flowing into the last bit of songs including heavy hitter “Even It Out” and the mellow “Lift Me Up.” The groovy guitar riff in “Shorty” feels like something that could have been written by Pearl Jam’s Stone Gossard during the Vs. sessions. It’s bluesy, funk infused vibe makes the song a stand out track on the record.
“Lullaby” is a song that sounds completely unique from anything else found on Buzz. It’s mainly acoustic, bringing in string elements at different points to give the song more depth. Rowe’s voice really shines in this moment as he sings sweets words like “And I can see I’ve been away too long. Dusting out the closet by the stairs. When the door swinging open, bring her smile to the window. In the sky, I see a hundred angels there. Hush, baby don’t you cry…”
The album closes with “Them Nails”— a short, jaunty track that sounds more southern rock than an alternative rock. In hindsight, it may have been more effective to have “Lullaby” close out the album, but “Them Nails” is an enjoyable song, so it fits either way.
Guardian would push forward into the later 1990s to make an album called Bottle Rocket that would have a bit more cohesion and more memorable songs. But without the creation and release of Buzz, Guardian may have been lost in the overwhelming amounts of bands that were overpowered by alternative rock during that time. Though grunge would not last much past 1996, the members of Guardian can look back on their work during this change in rock and roll’s history and be proud of not only their ability to adapt and create with listeners in mind, but also of the end result that was a product of their determination and effort.